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The car industry has a forced-labor problem 
Feb 2, 2024
Episode 1090

The car industry has a forced-labor problem 

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Plus, please don't microwave your fish.

A new report from Human Rights Watch found ties between forced labor in China and the aluminum products used by many popular automakers. We’ll get into what the discovery could mean for companies that want to ramp up electric vehicle production. And, meet the sailor making history as the first American woman to race solo around the world. Plus, we’ll weigh in on Apple’s new Vision Pro headset and more in a game of Half Full/Half Empty!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

We love to hear from you. Send your questions and comments to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart February 2, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh Willie. Ah Willie, you’re killing me. All right. All right. I had to let Willie in. Sorry. Hey everybody, I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense. I’m a trained radio professional. It is Friday, the second of February.

Nova Safo 

And I’m Nova Safo filling in for Kimberly Adams. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. And it’s Friday, so it’s the YouTube live stream. And it means it’s also time for our weekly happy hour episode. So excited about that.

Kai Ryssdal 

And then Willie goes out the door and leaves the door to the shed open, and it’s like 50 degrees in Los Angeles and I’m freezing.

Nova Safo 

Oh no, 50 degrees.

Kai Ryssdal 

It’s terrible.

Nova Safo 

How do you stand it?

Kai Ryssdal 

Well, I bundle up that’s what I do. And I put on the space heater. So, it’s Friday. We will do what we usually do. I’m amusing Nova today. We will do what we usually do, which is a little bit of news. We’ll do a little Half Full/Half Empty. I think Drew’s on, and we will check to see what people are drinking. Nova, what are you drinking, my young friend?

Nova Safo 

Okay so, I have today, this wine. It’s called Fumé Blanc from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California, Mexico. It’s a beautiful Blanco, and I got this as a gift from our Morning Report producer Ariana Rosas, who was last in Baja, and she brought it back with her, so I’m enjoying it quite a bit. It’s actually quite good. I recommend it.

Kai Ryssdal 

I would just. I would just point out to any producers who work with me, which is all of the producers on this podcast and certain producers on a radio show I do, nobody ever buys me booze.

Nova Safo 

So you’re doing something wrong, Kai.

Kai Ryssdal 

I’m doing something wrong. Okay, I’m having a, this is all I had in the garage, and I have to go out shopping later. A Stone Hazy IPA. It’s very good. It’s a little peachy, a little fruity, which is nice. I think it’s supposed to be ABV on this thing. Six points something. Six point seven. Let’s see what do we have going on? We’ve got K. Gilbert loves your Fumé Blanc. Haman Sturgeon and going up. Oh, Jody Pritchard having Vinho Verde as she tends risotto on the stove. I do like a good Vinho Verde.

Nova Safo 

It goes well with a risotto.

Kai Ryssdal 

Let’s see. Yes, it does. A lot of people are making fun of me for being cold in 50 degree weather. I’m just saying. Not nice to make fun of me.

Nova Safo 

Must be Chicagoans and Midwesterners.

Kai Ryssdal 

Anybody. Kilburn’s having a Menage a Trois Midnight Dark Red Blend. It’s more tannic.

Nova Safo 

I love Menage a Trois. It’s a good label. I like the label.

Kai Ryssdal 

Good for you. Are you a wine guy? Are you an oenophile?

Nova Safo 

Little bit? Not too much, but I’m familiar with that one because, you know, Trader Joe’s sells it.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh, Trader Joe’s sells it. Oh, well, there we go. Okay, seriously, we’re going to do some news. Nova, what do you got?

Nova Safo 

All right. So, I don’t want to start with a downer. But this is something that came out yesterday. It’s a report from the Human Rights Watch, and it didn’t get a lot of play because there’s been so much news going on the last few days. But Human Rights Watch tied the use of aluminum and automobiles, certain amount of it, to the oppression of the Uyghur people in China because as it turns out, about 10% of the global aluminum supply comes from that region, the Xinjiang region in China. And what Human Rights actually specifically also pointed to Toyota, Volkswagen General Motors, Tesla and BYD, the electric vehicle company in China, which just overtook Tesla. And this really is about electric vehicles because aluminum is a is a component in the batteries, and we’re going to need a lot more of it. And so, we need to kind of nip this in the bud now, so we don’t have metal in our cars coming from what the United States considers genocide, genocidal behavior in China.

Kai Ryssdal 

It’s really interesting, the idea of forced, totally everything that was said, I completely agree with. What’s just news wise interesting and disheartening is that it was front and center in the American news cycle for a good, you know, a number of years, and now as domestic politics have heated up and we are we are caught in our own Sturm and Drang, it has kind of fallen off the radar, so good for Human Rights Watch for bringing that back up.

Nova Safo 

Yeah, and I would like to point out that the Associated Press did reach out to those four companies. Tesla and BYD did not get back to them, but General Motors, Volkswagen, and Toyota did and said they either will review it or they’ve looked into these things before and have not found a connection. But the point that the Human Rights Watch is making is that, if you are doing, if you are getting aluminum from Xinjiang, there is literally no way to ensure that there is no risk of forced labor being a part of that, so that you have to get rid of that source. And that’s a tough call. That’s a tough thing to ask and something that might have to happen.

Kai Ryssdal 

Well, right. I mean, you know, it always involves companies making, it involves companies making economic decisions against their own interest, which is to say, against the profit and bottom line interest. And that’s tough for companies to do or tougher than it ought to be, I think for companies to, you know. Okay, so mine is a little off the beaten path. But as is this story, so a number of weeks and or months ago, I mentioned on the show with Kimberly once, that somehow randomly, I found this woman on Instagram. Her name is Cole Brauer, and she’s a sailor. And she’s in the middle of something called the Global Solo Challenge, which is racing alone in a sailboat around the world. 27,000 miles. And I mentioned it because number one, it’s amazing. Number two, she’s 29. Number three, she’s like five foot nothing and weighs 100 pounds. That’s her description of her. And number four, this past week, she sailed around Cape Horn, which is the southern tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego down there, the Southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. And it’s just, it’s a stunning, stunning achievement for anybody, let alone a young person alone and it was really cool. And there’s a story about her in People Magazine, and I encourage you all the follow her on TikTok, I think it’s Cole. Not TikTok. Instagram because I haven’t got time for two social networks. Cole Brauer Racing is her handle. And, and she’s, I mean, the gutsiness that this woman has is just so stunning to me, and I think it’s really cool. It’s really cool. It’s really cool.

Nova Safo 

What’s it like to be out there all alone?

Kai Ryssdal 

It’s amazeballs. It’s crazy. I can’t imagine she hasn’t seen a human being other than on a screen, which I suppose could be said for some people working here on the mainland. But you know, we’re getting a decent night’s sleep, and she’s on a sailboat that’s rocking and things break and throwing across the deck in the middle of the night, and she broke a rib and all kinds of stuff. Anyway, I encourage you to read it. It’s cool. It’s kind of inspiring. I kind of dug it, actually. It’s just really cool. This is really cool.

Nova Safo 

It’s amazing what human beings can do with a good kind of cause effect. Look at Diana Nyad and the story, and the Annette Bening movie.

Kai Ryssdal 

Former Marketplace person.

Nova Safo 

Former Marketplace person.

Kai Ryssdal

She used to be a commentator here.

Nova Safo

Indeed, and had a show for a bit as well, I think. That’s right. Wasn’t she Savvy Traveler back in the day.

Kai Ryssdal 

If you’ve been around for a while like Nova and I.

Nova Safo 

Yeah. All right. Well, that’s it for the news, right? Are we going to take this break and we’ll return? Oh, wow. Do you hear that everybody? All right. We’re going to take a quick break, and then we’ll play a round of Half Full/Half Empty on the other side. We’ll be right back.

Kai Ryssdal 

All right, Half Full/Half Empty is the game. Drew Jostad is in charge now. Drew, go.

Drew Jostad 

Are you half full or half empty on Universal Music Group removing music from TikTok?

Kai Ryssdal 

So that happened this week. The biggest music stars on the planet belong to Universal Music Group that controls something like, some huge percentage, like it’s more than half of all the music on the planet. TikTokk of course, has one of every people on the planet uses TikTok. That’s a big deal. I personally don’t care.

Nova Safo 

Well, you know, I thought that was interesting that Universal Music said something to the effect of, “TikTok is a music service, but they don’t want to pay for it,” which is true. It’s true. I mean, I think what makes TikTok Tiktok is the music that goes with the videos on the funky quirky videos and video templates. So yeah, I mean, I think they should really pay up for that. I mean, it’s a big part of their business model.

Kai Ryssdal 

I think that’s fair. Do you TikTok, Nova?

Nova Safo 

I do not. I will not put it anywhere near my smartphone for obvious reasons, being the accusations from our country and our intelligence services that there may be some potential nefarious titans on the Chinese side, so no.

Kai Ryssdal 

But you do Instagram, right?

Nova Safo 

I Instagram. I reel, all that stuff. And I have consumed others’ Tik Tok videos that have been repurposed in other places, so I’m familiar with the genre. Yes, so yeah. Yeah, yeah, but I can’t bring myself to jump into that labor.

Kai Ryssdal 

Nope, I’m with you. All right, Drew. Number two, please.

Drew Jostad 

According to an article last week in The New York Times food section, the microwave is a perfect tool for poaching fish, are you half full or half empty?

Kai Ryssdal 

Now you know what it’s like when I was trolled by his producers. So let me just back up and set the scene. I am vocally and have been for many years on Twitter, vocally opposed to microwaving fish, specifically microwaving fish in the office. You just can’t freakin do that, people. I don’t care what The New York Times says. All the way empty. It is just a firing freakin offense.

Nova Safo 

Yeah, it’s gross. And it makes it rubbery. I don’t understand how you could possibly say that it’s anyway a cooking tool. It’s a warm up the leftovers tool. That’s it. And making popcorn.

Kai Ryssdal

That’s exactly right.

Nova Safo

Half empty. That was easy. Gave us a hard one.

Kai Ryssdal 

Bridget put that one in there, right? She must have.

Drew Jostad 

Okay, Buy Now, Pay Later systems, Afterpay, and Klarna are launching monthly subscription programs. Are you half full or half?

Nova Safo 

What could possibly go wrong?

Kai Ryssdal

Yeah, you go first.

Nova Safo

Yeah, I heard something about this. What a terrible idea, the idea that you pay a monthly subscription and then what you get to spend and spend.

Drew Jostad 

I guess. You just pay them the monthly subscription instead.

Nova Safo 

So it gets easier to go into debt and buy things you can’t afford? Half empty, thank you.

Kai Ryssdal 

I don’t think Buy Now, Pay Later.

Nova Safo 

This seems like a really bad idea for personal finance. You know, just what was the term, I think? Was it you, Kai? I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Did we talk about this on Tuesday? And did you say or was it somebody else who used the word? Like, oh, I’m forgetting the word. What is it when it’s like, like payday loans, the same thing like it’s abusive to the customer. Predatory. The word is predatory. What was looking for? I don’t know if that wasn’t on Tuesday. Somebody else said that, and I agreed. Yeah.

Drew Jostad 

Next topic. Are you empty on a new beer dispensing technology that fills pints and pitchers from the bottom up, freeing up the bartender to multitask?

Kai Ryssdal 

I’ve seen that. I have seen that. I’ve only seen it with pint glasses, I guess. So, it’s a thing that you put on the bar. And obviously, you have to have special glasses. Let me see if I can. Sorry, I’m going to change screens here and make sure everybody can see this. So, you take your pint glass, which is special glass, and there’s a little receptacle on the bar counter. And you plop the glass down in it. And there’s a there’s a spout there and it’s connected to the tap obviously. And beer comes in from the bottom and fills it from the bottom up. I think it’s a cool gimmick. I don’t know what it does for like the beer. I don’t know. Yeah. And there’s like magnet on the bottom over a hole. I don’t know. Yeah.

Nova Safo 

Well, wait a minute. Why do you need to fill the beer from the bottom up or what is the benefit of doing this?

Kai Ryssdal 

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Drew Jostad 

The bartender doesn’t have to stand there and pull the tap the whole time. And the idea is that if the bartender makes a mistake and puts too much head on it, they don’t have to waste the beer.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh, well, I mean, okay, I suppose, whatever. I just had to mute myself for a beer burp as it happens. Anyway, Drew?

Nova Safo 

Neutral.

Drew Jostad 

I don’t know. Nobody has strong opinions until now. Strong feelings. Is the poll queued up?

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh, this is the poll? All right. Okay. This is the poll.

Drew Jostad 

Half full or half empty on the Apple Vision Pro?

Kai Ryssdal

Oh man.

Nova Safo 

Oh my God. I have so many opinions on this. No, I can’t.

Kai Ryssdal 

So, wait. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m actually going to put a watch on this because either people have opinions, or they don’t. We will give them one minute, and I’m starting a timer now. So, to refresh, for $3,500, you can buy from Tim Cook, a gizmo that fits on your head, which kind of like puts you in another dimension. And it’s goggles, but you can see through them. And there’s, like, there’s, there’s, there’s apps in there. And you watch movies, and it’s interactive somehow. And it’s supposed to be whiz bang and a lot of people who like it, or who have tried it really like it. I will say again, $3,500. Let me also command to your attention, an article in Vanity Fair, which I think is in front of the paywall by Nick Bilton, who’s their tech guy about the R&D process at Apple, and it talks about Tim Cook eight or nine years ago going into this tippy top secret room on the Apple campus before they built that new circular building. And then putting this thing on his head, which was like a big box, and it had hoses and wires, everything coming out of it. But inside was amazing. And apparently, Cook knew then that I there’s my one minute timer, Cook knew then that this was going to be huge. So, you have to figure that this company has never really put a device wrong, right? I mean, yes, there was the Lisa like back in 1997 or whatever. But the iPod, the phone, the iPad, their computers, I mean, it’s done really well. It’s done really well. What has not done really well? And our poll, look at this. Alright, so hold on. I’m just going to do the poll.

Nova Safo 

Am I about to be really happy about our listeners?

Kai Ryssdal 

So Apple Vision Pro half empty 82%, half full 17%. 175 votes. Nova Safo, you have the floor.

Nova Safo 

I love our listeners so much. What a complete and utter like, really, this is what we need. Like first we have robots roaming the streets and littering everywhere. And now we have goggles on your head to take you away from reality even more than we already take ourselves away from reality. How about fewer gadgets? Like I just don’t understand the idea of like wrapping yourself up in digital technology and removing yourself from the world completely. I am just, my mind is boggled. And also, can we just talk about the fact that there is a dangling battery off this thing? Yes. So, it’s already ridiculous. It costs $3,500. And what does it do? It removes you from reality. We need less of this.

Kai Ryssdal 

No, that’s fine. You keep going. You want a little more time? All right, good. Super quick just, Terry Doherty checking the YouTube chat, the woman’s sailing around the world is Cole, C-O-L-E. Brauer, B-R-A-U-E-R. I think her handle on Instagram is Cole Brauer Racing. I am torn about these goggles. Because everything Nova said is completely true. And the idea of, if you had say $15,000,  family of five or four with tax, right? Sitting around watching the same movie, but inside their own goggles is just dumb, right? Thank you. That’s so dumb. Yes, that said, this is first generation technology. Maybe second if you count Meta’s, whatever the hell it is. They’re what is their what is their thing? I forget what their goggles are anyway. If you count Meta’s, maybe a second. Oculus. Yes, Oculus. Somebody call me when these things are actually glasses, not Google Glasses. Not any, you know, Snapchat thing. But when they have this functionality in glasses that you put on your face like regular glasses because it will happen, right? It will happen maybe in five years. 10 years, but it will definitely happen, and the batteries will be tiny and there’ll be in the stems of the glasses and there’ll be all kinds of stuff and it’d be whiz bang, and it’d be amazing. But I completely agree that the challenge and the problem with these things is that they shut you off from reality. And even if you’re sitting in an office with other people who are doing this or even at home, and yes, you can see through them and all of that stuff. We’re not there yet. That’s what I think. We’re not there yet

Nova Safo 

Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, you know, when they talk about use cases, like well, you know, if you’re an engineer or you’re trying to repair something, you can overlay a plan on top of the thing and you can show you how to fix it. Those are very interesting use cases, very specific use cases. But for entertainment, for, I just I think for a specific tool use great. For general public use, I’m very skeptical. Yeah, very, very skeptical of their benefit, but at the same time, I’m also really skeptical of the benefit of Apple Watches. I mean, do we really need to measure every little aspect of our lives that way? Do we need to know how many steps we walk today? Really?

Kai Ryssdal 

So, I am an Apple Watch wearer. I don’t use it for steps. I don’t use it for whatever. I use it for notifications. I use it for working out. Do I need it? No, I definitely don’t need it. Do I have it? Yes. And now I feel bad about myself.

Nova Safo 

And that’s all marketing. It’s all marketing.

Kai Ryssdal.

Thanks, Nova.

Nova Safo

You’re welcome.

Kai Ryssdal 

Yeah, all right. All right. We’re going to go now. Back on my back on Monday, Nova may never be here again. I don’t know. If you’ve got a question or a comment you want to share with us leave us a voicemail 508-U-B-Smart. That’s U-B-SMART or you can email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org. That’s how it gets to us.

Nova Safo 

All right, Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Today’s episode was engineered by Charlie Thorp. Our intern is Thalia Menchaca.

Kai Ryssdal 

There we go. There we go. Nova cranked in early on producing credits.

Nova Safo 

I know all those people very well.

Kai Ryssdal 

That’s right. The team behind our Friday game is Emily MacCune and Antoinette Brock. Marissa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital and On Demand. And that is where we are on a Friday afternoon.

Nova Safo 

A beautiful Friday. Nice cold weather.

Kai Ryssdal 

Paul in Minnesota says, Nova, let’s have him guest star again. Yes.

Nova Safo 

Anytime.

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The team

Marissa Cabrera Senior Producer
Courtney Bergsieker Associate Producer